Sometimes it’s hard not to think that David Lynch’s fixation on transcendental meditation isn’t a joke the filmmaker is playing on us. Is there any major artist whose entire body of work has seemed more ominous, more filled with sinister intonations, less meditative? Mantras don’t come much scarier than “fire walk with me.”
Lynch’s first solo album, “Crazy Clown Time,” doesn’t sound very Maharishi-approved, either. If you’ve ommm-ed your way to a state of higher consciousness, it’s just the record to bring yourself back down to earth, though it might overcompensate by taking you to the third or fourth rung of the underworld. Maybe, with all these tense and nerve-racking sounds, Lynch just intends to create more demand for the calming cure that TM is meant to offer.
That said, the album is frequently funny, on top of creepy — not in a just-kidding-about-all-this kind of way, but in that peculiarly Lynchian manner in which a strong streak of absurdism has always offset the unsettling.
The album’s only guest vocal is right up front, with Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs taking the lead on a breathy “Pinky’s Dream,” in which she repeatedly implores, “Please, Pinky, watch the road.” The song’s abrupt ending suggests that he didn’t. (Maybe it was their wrecked car that Nic Cage and Laura Dern came upon in “Wild at Heart”?)
In that opener, as in most of the tracks, Lynch is doing variations on the dark and elementary blues shuffles he and Angelo Badalamenti used to come up with for roadhouse and party scenes in the "Twin Peaks" franchise. You get a lot of tremolo guitar, doled out as sparingly as possible, as if Lynch took four bars of an old Ventures song and decided to parcel all those deep, twangy chords out one by one over the course of an entire album.
But this is the first time we’ve heard much of Lynch singing… or “singing.” He does more acting on this album than he ever did on-screen, so we don’t really hear much of his natural Jimmy-Stewart-on-Mars voice, since even when he’s doing spoken-word pieces, he makes some attempt to filter or disguise his vocals.
The title track finds Lynch talking in a high-pitched boy’s voice as he describes a backyard bacchanalia. “Pauley had a red shirt… Suzy had hers off completely… Buddy screamed so loud, he spit,” Lynch nearly whines, against a lurching backdrop of threatening blues, disturbing guitar interruptions, and constant moans. He could almost be a maniac describing a massacre, but more likely, he’s an actual kid, cheerfully trying to come to terms with the mysterious goings-on he witnessed at a teenagers’ beer bash.
He’s definitely playing an adult, and a disturbed one, in “Football Game” (“I saw you with another man/You better run, baby, I hope you can”), “These Are My Friends” (“I got a prescription for a problem, keeps the hounds at bay”), and “Speed Roadster” (“I know you f—ed Al/He’s supposed to be my pal… I might be stalkin’ you”). These are definitely the white man’s blues, with Lynch sounding more like Emo Phillips than Esther Phillips.
It’s not all such primal stuff. David does disco a couple of times, including the single, “Good Day Today,” where he sings through a heavily processed Vocoder-type device over a techno beat. “I want to have a good day today,” he repeats, as poppily as possible, unlikely as it is that this will ever replace Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” in the public’s celebratory lexicon.
There’s a sameness to the musical bed and feeling of a lot of the other tracks, so it’s a relief to come upon the album’s most oddball number, “Strange and Unproductive Thinking,” an all-electronic rant which has Lynch reciting a run-on sentence that lasts for seven and a half amusing minutes.
It’s in “Strange and Unproductive Thinking” that we may get the best glimpse of the Lynch who is kind of kidding and dead-serious all at once. For most of the stream of consciousness, he’s offering theories about higher consciousness and inner peace that sound like they could be right out of a TM handbook. But more than five minutes in, he starts relating all this highfalutin' idealism to… dentistry.
The song wraps up with Lynch taking note of “the idea that plaque could appear upon the surface of the teeth and negative occurrences follow such as the hideous odors emitted from the oral cavity… and the possibility of the breaking of relationships based upon the idea of negative distortion of the mouth, for teeth, while not necessarily considered one of the primary building blocks of happiness, can in fact become a small sore, festering and transferring negative energies to the once quiet and peaceful mind, giving it over to strange and unproductive thinking.”
There’s hardly a doubt he knows how funny this is — well, for a certain sense of humor — or that it’s also a serious theory he’s given weight to. So if he can marry mental and dental health, maybe combining meditation with sinister themes isn’t so contradictory after all.
If you’re a fan — and, quite honestly, probably only if you’re already a fan — then the album offers an empire of the mind that’s more worth the trip than, you know, “Inland Empire.” But, having gotten this intriguing oddity out of his system, could he please make another, possibly rabbit-free film now?